The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announced a $1.6 billion funding appeal Tuesday to help counter “chronic” budget shortfalls.
It is the latest in a long series of warnings from UNRWA on possible deep cuts if the international community fails to provide more support.
“Chronic agency budget shortfalls threaten the livelihoods and well-being of the Palestine refugees that UNRWA serves and pose a serious threat to the agency’s ability to maintain services,” agency head Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement.
UNRWA’s funding suffered a blow in 2018 when former United States president Donald Trump cut support to the agency. His administration branded UNRWA as “irredeemably flawed,” siding with Israeli criticisms of the agency founded in 1949, a year after Israel’s creation.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has restored some support, announcing a $150 million donation last April, followed by an announcement the next month of an additional $32 million. In December, the US announced it would funnel another $99 million to the UN body, which a month earlier warned that it was facing an “existential threat” over budget gaps.
When it resumed the funding for the troubled agency, Washington said it had the commitment of UNRWA to “zero tolerance” for antisemitism, racism or discrimination. The Biden administration continues to call on the agency to enact a series of reforms aimed at better transparency, and says it will be kept to account.
Jerusalem has nonetheless long pushed for UNRWA’s closure, arguing that it helps perpetuate the conflict with the Palestinians since it confers refugee status upon descendants of those originally displaced around the time of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. The claim was echoed by Trump in his 2018 decision to stop funding the agency.
Pro-Israel advocates have also long criticized UNRWA for its textbooks, which they say promote incitement. Israeli monitoring groups have charged that UNRWA curricula promote violence and deny Israel’s right to exist.
The agency has a staff of 28,000 and provides services such as education and health care to more than five million Palestinians registered in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.